Below is a guest post from an Extinction Rebellion person, James. He’s not trying to speak on behalf of ER, or anyone else. You may or may not agree with everything he says, but it’s certainly worth a read. See also a critique and defense of ER in Peace News.
“Be on the right side of history, or be at the end of History” read one placard at Saturday’s Extinction Rebellion mass action in the Capital on Saturday. For those of us that have been fighting the campaign against climate change since ‘an inconvenient truth’ came out in 2006, the feeling might be a more jaded response of “Be on the right side of History at the end of History…. if you must!”. But XR (XR being what Extinction Rebellion like to be known as) are a mainly a student led operation with bags of enthusiasm and passion, and something new that we didn’t have in 2006. A willingness, or even a wantonness to go to prison for the cause.
Being a Climate Change obsessive there was no way I wasn’t going to go along to Manchester University to find out what XR was all about. I discovered there are groups at all the major universities. The meeting was well organised and had a definite feel of an influence of Greenpeace about it. When the group of mainly young people were asked “How many here are willing to go to prison raise your hands” the amount of hands that went up actually moved me to tears. These are young people who have never even experienced the inside of a police station cell who are willing to go straight to prison to bring about change. The headline XR appear to be after is “Government forced to act as number of Extinction Rebellion activists in prison hits 100”. I’m not willing to go to prison myself but I signed up there and then to offer my support.
So what are my reservations? I do fear that XR don’t have the support network for these young people in prison. I am also starting to wonder if the government declaring a state of emergency might not actually be counter-productive. It might pave the way for an authoritarian state we don’t want and the reason for the emergency may just end up being described as being “a cyclical weather event exacerbated by climate change requiring a state of emergency”.
Also XR have only two methods for getting into prison. Shutting down and spray painting offices and shutting down roads. This might help bring forward an 100% electric car Europe by 2025 but will it bring about the real change we require? I feel a far better use of their time would be breaching injunctions at the Fracking Sites in Blackpool and Derbyshire, and also the Tree felling sites in Sheffield. That way they would be standing up for democracy at the same time as going to prison. They would also have shit hot arrestee support, a shit hot crew of court/prison support from groups like Reclaim the Power and No Stump City as well as financial and legal help. RtP recently brought forward an appeal hearing to get three anti-fracking activists out of prison after only three weeks of their 15 month sentences, this i feel is the kind of invaluable support these young people need.
That said Saturday was hugely empowering. The police were completely taken by surprise and couldn’t get anywhere near the numbers needed to stop us. 5 major bridges in the Capital were shut for the entire day. One criticism for the day would be lack of signage. In theory emergency vehicles would have been aloud through but there were no signs to convey this, also none of the general public appeared to have a clue what it was all about. There was no one leafleting i could see and no statement of “Climate Emergency” on any of the printed flags or banners. I heard some young men of the public walk past me on the pavement. One said “What are they?” a reply from his friend was “Pagans?” “Oh. What are they protesting about?” “Dunno. End of the world i think”.
That said there was one huge XR banner across Westminster Bridge that read “Climate Change. We’re Fucked”. Well if we really are Fucked (as looks increasingly likely) does it really matter anymore how anyone wants to complain about that?